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A fun city, a boring city, and some whales

Sydney, Australia


We arrived in Sydney mid-afternoon and were picked up by a shuttle bus our hostel had arranged for us. In the middle of rush-hour traffic, our driver insisted on breaking only when within about 1 foot of other cars, cyclists, or pedestrians. After about 40 minutes in the death cab, we arrived at our hostel in King’s Cross, which we soon learned was the red light district of Sydney. Our hostel wasn’t so bad though and had free wireless internet. We decided not to waste anytime and walked to the harbour that evening to check out the Opera House and harbour bridge.

The next morning, we walked down to the harbour again to see the sights by daylight. In photos, I’ve always thought the Opera house was white, but up close it’s made up of tiles of white and light brown. It’s probably even more impressive in person than in photos. Ollie’s parents had recommended we buy tickets for a harbour cruise (one of those hop-on-hop-off things), so we did that and got great views of the harbour. This allowed for pictures of the Opera house from pretty much every angle to be taken. The tour guide on the boat “highly recommended” we get off at Watson harbour for lunch, which turned out to be just your average harbour with slightly overpriced meals offered at cafés along the waterfront. After getting back on the boat, our next stop, Darling Harbour, was much more worthwhile. Lined with pretty cafés, fountains, and the odd shopping mall, the harbour was a definite Sydney favourite for the Brit and Canuck. There was a photo exhibit on with poster-size aerial pictures taken all over the world all by the same guy. We wandered as far as the Chinese Gardens from Darling Harbour, before returning to catch our ferry back to the main harbour. We’d decided on dinner in Chinatown that evening and walked back to our hostel before walking to Chinatown. As we looked at the map to decide upon our route, we discovered Chinatown was about 100m from the Chinese Gardens we’d been to earlier on. Oh well, at least we got our exercise.

Bondi Beach was our first stop the next day. It must have received its fame from its summer activities, which would probably make sense since it’s a beach. Aside from a few surfers on the water, there wasn’t much going on there. We did see a good, old-fashioned family man sitting with his wife and kids on the sand tastefully sporting a hoodie that said “Love to FCUK” on the back. The same guy was spotted the previous day in Sydney harbour wearing the same top. We took the ferry to Manly, a Sydney suburb on the northern shore of the harbour that afternoon. This was a required stop for Ol, since his sister and brother-in-law’s last name is Manley. Because it was the weekend, we decided to visit the weekend markets (or I decided, and Ollie reluctantly agreed) in the Rocks and Manly.

The following day we had to catch our flight to Brisbane. Unfortunately, Brisbane didn’t have as many interesting sights in store for us as Sydney did. In fact, it didn’t really have any. Upon arriving in Brisbane, I was pretty surprised to find that the city isn’t on the ocean, but on a dirty looking river. I guess with Surfer’s Paradise and Byron Bay nearby, they’ve got access to nice beaches. After a few days of wandering around the city, which mainly consists of office towers and malls, we finally discovered a charming bit on the south bank, with a small artificial beach. We finished the day by going up a mountain look-out. That evening, we were joined by Ollie’s parents, who had just flown in from Auckland.

After an early start the next morning, we headed 3 hours up the coast to Hervey Bay, famous for its migrating humpback whales that stop by on their journey to the Antarctic. We made it just in time for the afternoon whale-watching trip. I expected we’d be seeing the whales about 50m from the boat at best. After ½ hour of motoring out into the bay aboard our catamaran, the boat was stopped because some humpbacks were spotted. The pod did some tricks for us, which we were able to see thanks to a couple pairs of binoculars Ollie’s parents had brought along (they’re much more prepared travellers than me and Ollie). Expecting the whales (which we were told were only a couple years old) to keep their distance, we were pleasantly surprised when the whales started swimming right up to the boat to check us out. According to the people working on the boat, the whales aren’t the least bit afraid of the boats and are actually very intrigued by them. In the first pod we saw, one of the three whales tried to convince the other two to get away from the boat and swim somewhere else with him. They just shrugged him off, so he probably felt like a bit of a loser. If he does it everyday, he probably won’t have friends for too much longer. Ollie and I managed to find a good spot on the boat for viewing and the whales came within a few feet of us a bunch of times. They mostly did little twirls and pec slaps and did the odd breach (when they jump right out of the water and do a flip back in). The first pod hung around for a while, before they spotted another boat and suddenly we weren’t good enough for them. Luckily, we soon came across another pod which was just as curious about all the people on board and swam around for a long time. The four of us all had our cameras at the ready to try and get a good breaching photo, but it was Rick in the end, with his long lens, who captured a great one on camera.

After about 3 hours of non-stop whale activity, we headed back into the harbour. It was definitely one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen or done. From there, we headed to our hotel in Hervey bay for the night, which I’d booked on the phone a few days earlier. The proprietor had apparently been smoking and sun-tanning excessively for so many years, it was hard to tell if she was 50 or 80. When we arrived at 6pm, she told us we were lucky we still had our accommodation for the night. She lead us into the unit and asked me to remind her what my name was. After I told her, she said “Oh yeah, I knew it was something weird. What kind of name is that?” “Dutch,” I replied. “Oh, I thought you was Chinese or something. It sure doesn’t sound Dutch.” Not feeling she’d graced us enough with her presence, she stopped by about ½ hour later to bring us some extra towels. Ollie and I were looking at the whale watching photos on his laptop when she came over to check out our photos and asked if we could send some to her. I guess living in Hervey Bay, she didn’t have enough opportunities to photograph the whales herself or buy one of the hundreds of professional pictures circulating around the town. She then decided to tell Ollie about her deceased rottweiler and having him put down. After she’d overstayed what probably wasn’t even a welcome in the first place, we sat down to dinner. We made it an early night, because the next morning we were off to the world’s largest sandbar.


permalink written by  olliejohnson on August 17, 2007 from Sydney, Australia
from the travel blog: A Brit and a Canuck Down Under
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